IXPE nearing shipment to Florida for December 2021 launch

The launch of the Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) observatory is now targeting December 13,… The post IXPE nearing shipment to Florida for December 2021 launch appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

IXPE nearing shipment to Florida for December 2021 launch

The launch of the Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) observatory is now targeting December 13, 2021, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The IXPE X-Ray observatory is the latest spacecraft in NASA’s historic Small Explorers (SMEX) program. 

The IXPE mission was first selected as a part of the Explorers program in January 2017. NASA awarded the IXPE team $188 million for the spacecraft and mission, including the cost of the launch vehicle, post-launch operations, and data analysis. The spacecraft will be used to study Black Holes and other cosmic X-ray mysteries. 

Built by Ball Aerospace at facilities in Boulder, Colorado, the IXPE spacecraft is based on the Ball Configurable Platform (BCP)-100 satellite bus. The BCP-100 is one of Ball Aerospace’s offerings for a modular satellite bus for low-Earth orbit (LEO) operations. It was most recently used by NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) to test a new type of Green propellant for space operations. 

IXPE is not the only space observatory Ball Aerospace has built. Ball built the Kepler space telescope, instruments for the Hubble and Spitzer space telescope. Ball also made the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), now named Near-Earth Orbit (NEO)WISE, which is also a part of the Explorers program. 

Using the BCP-100 satellite bus, IXPE will weigh a total of ~325kg. When launched, the spacecraft will be 1.1 meters in diameter and 5.2 meters tall when the spacecraft is fully extended. The solar array will be 2.7 meters when fully deployed. IXPE will have a two-year primary mission while in orbit. 

The IXPE spacecraft is separated into two different parts. The first is the main spacecraft with the solar array, attitude control, and communication systems. The second part is attached with a deployable payload boom with its X-Ray shield and main Mirror Module Support Structure (MMSS) deck.

Artist impression of the IXPE spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

The MMSS will consist of three separate mirror-based telescopes, all with a focal length of four meters. The focal length will be achieved by the deployable boom. The telescopes will focus X-rays seen from space onto a polarization-sensitive imaging detector developed in Italy. The telescopes will have a 2-8 keV range, an 11-arcminute field of view, and ≤30-arcsecond angular resolution. IXPE’s detectors will be two orders of magnitude more sensitive than those on the Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO)-8 mission.

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  • Using these three telescopes, IXPE will study X-ray Polarization. X-Ray Polarization is a specific area of X-Ray astronomy that allows scientists to study matter distribution, the spin of black holes, and more. IXPE is the first of its kind to study polarized X-Rays from extreme objects like neutron stars, stellar and supermassive black holes. 

    IXPE completed its Critical Design Review (CDR) in July 2019. From there, the spacecraft underwent construction and assembly. In September 2020, the Mirror Module Assembly (MMA) was delivered to Ball Aerospace in Boulder. A month later, the MMA was installed on the MMSS deck. In December 2020, the extendable boom arm underwent a deployment test. 

    By the end of January 2021, the spacecraft was completed and began environmental testing. In August 2021, IXPE completed a 21-day thermal vacuum test with its boom extended. By the end of August, the arm was stowed and was back in its cleanroom. 

    Next up for IXPE is the completion of all of its pre-launch testing. Soon it will be delivered from Ball’s facilities in Boulder to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for its launch.

    IXPE is currently set to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9, likely from historic Launch Complex 39A. In 2019 NASA awarded SpaceX $50.3 million to launch IXPE. IXPE was originally designed to be launched on an air-launched Northrop Grumman Pegasus-XL launch vehicle, but SpaceX ended up winning the contract to launch IXPE.

    Falcon 9 (B1059-5) launching from LC-39A with the NROL-108 mission. (Credit: SpaceX)

    Originally targeting May 2021, it was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic to late-2021. The launch is currently scheduled for no earlier than (NET) on December 13, 2021.  

    The Falcon 9 will launch IXPE in a circular 590km orbit by 0.2 degrees inclination. Also, given IXPE’s size and weight, it may conduct a Return-To-Launch Site (RTLS) landing at SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral Landing Zone-1. Once separated from the Falcon 9, it will extend its solar array and payload boom to begin its mission.

    Explorers Program

    IXPE is the latest in a very long list of satellites in the Explorers program. The Explorers program started in the 1950s as a US Army program to launch the first artificial satellite to orbit. The first US satellite, Explorer-1, was launched via a Juno-1 rocket in January 1958, before the program was taken over by NASA when it was founded in October 1958. 

    Over time the program evolved to what it is today. The program is now separated into three main different classes and one minor class. There is a Medium-Class Explorers (MIDEX), the SMEX (which IXPE is a part of), the University-Class Explorers (UNEX), and Mission of Opportunity (MO).

    List of active MIDEX/SEMX satellites Type of Class Launch Vehicle Launch Date Time in operation
    Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) Delta II 7920-8 Aug 25, 1997 ~24 years, 1 month
    Swift Observatory MIDEX-3 Delta II 7320-10C Nov 20, 2004 ~16 years, 9 months
    Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) MIDEX-5 Delta II 7925-10C Feb 17, 2007 ~14 years, 7 months
    Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) SMEX-9 Pegasus-XL F38 April 25, 2007 ~14 years, 5 months
    Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) SMEX-10 Pegasus XL F40 Oct 19, 2008 ~12 years, 11 months
    WISE/NEOWISE MIDEX-6 Delta II 7320-10 Dec 14, 2009 ~11 years, 9 months
    NuSTAR SMEX-11 Pegasus XL F41 June 13, 2012 ~9 years, 3 months
    Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) SMEX-12 Pegasus-XL F42 June 28, 2013 ~8 years, 3 months
    Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) MIDEX-7 Falcon 9 (B1045-1) April 18, 2018 ~3 years, 5 months
    Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) MIDEX-8 Pegasus XL F44 Oct 11, 2019 ~1 year, 11 months

    Some of the active MO missions include the Two Wide-Angle Imaging Neutral-Atom Astrometers (TWINS), which is a pair of instruments on the USA-184 (NROL-22) and the USA-200 (NROL-28) missions. Another mission is the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) X-Ray telescope which was launched on the SpaceX CRS-11 mission to the International Space Station. The most recent mission to fly is the Global-scale Observation of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission currently onboard the Airbus-built SES-14 spacecraft.

    The ACE spacecraft, which has currently been in operation for about 24 years, is one of the longest operating NASA missions ever. ACE is currently being used to study particles and magnetic fields in space. Today, along with NOAA’s DSCOVR spacecraft, it is currently being used to observe space weather and be used as early detection for solar activity.  ACE will remain in operation until 2024, when it will run out of fuel. 

    THEMIS is a mission comprised of five spacecraft, of which three are in highly-elliptical Earth orbit and two in a Lunar orbit. The two in Lunar orbit were renamed ARTEMIS P1 and P2. THEMIS and ARTEMIS are both working in tangent with each other and other spacecraft to help study the Sun and its effect on the Earth’s magnetosphere. Their mission will continue until all spacecraft run out of fuel.

    THEMIS in pre-launch testing. (Credit: NASA)

    NEOWISE is currently in a Sun-synchronous orbit on a mission to detect Near-Earth objects. In July 2021, its mission was extended until June 2023. A future spacecraft, NEO Surveyor, will replace NEOWISE when it launches in 2026. It is currently in Phase B of program development.

    The Explorers program allows opportunities for heliophysics and astrophysics science areas. The program still has several more missions coming up for future missions. The next SMEX missions following IXPE are the Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH) and the Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites (TRACERS) missions. Both will launch together on an unassigned launch vehicle in October 2023. The two are currently in Phase B and are undergoing design and technology completion.

    In 2024, several more Explorer missions will launch, including the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization, and Ice Explorer (SPHEREx), as well as the Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment (SunRISE) mission. SPHEREx is currently in Phase C, which means it is now in Final Design and Fabrication; it will launch in September 2024 on a Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

    SunRISE just entered Phase B of its development in September 2021. The six spacecraft will launch onboard a Maxar-built satellite to geostationary orbit, currently planned for some time between April 2024 and September 2025. 

    (Lead image credit: NASA)

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    Source : NASA More   

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    NASA completes umbilical test for SLS Artemis 1 mission

    NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket completed another milestone on its way to launch with… The post NASA completes umbilical test for SLS Artemis 1 mission appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

    NASA completes umbilical test for SLS Artemis 1 mission

    NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket completed another milestone on its way to launch with the Umbilical Release and Retract Test (URRT). The URRT was performed on the rocket on September 19 while it stood in High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

    During the test, the swing arms and T0 umbilicals at the base of the rocket were commanded to retract from the vehicle as they will during a standard SLS launch countdown.

    The test occurred on Mobile Launcher 1 (ML-1) and allowed ground teams to verify and validate the mechanisms, timings, and function of the umbilical release and retract system that will separate and move the arms — that support data and communications pathways as well as fueling ports for the upper stage — away from the SLS rocket and against the tower at launch.

    The tower itself is built onto ML-1 and supports not only the swing arms and their data and fueling systems, but also the Orion capsule and Service Module with purge lines, data and communication paths, and access to the Orion vehicle for crewed missions.

    This is the same Mobile Launcher that will be used for the Artemis 1 mission and other flights that use the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS). It was initially constructed for Ares I in 2010, but with the cancelation of the Constellation program, ML-1 was modified to be used with SLS Block 1 with the ICPS.

    Following Artemis 3, NASA will move to a different launch tower, ML-2, that will support the launches of SLS Block 1B and its Exploration Upper Stage that replaces the ICPS.

    A second Mobile Launcher is required as a modification of ML-1 was not feasible because it would result in more than two years between SLS launches.

    Regardless of which ML is used, the SLS rocket has a variety of umbilicals that are attached to different parts of the ML tower.

    The first SLS standing tall on its Mobile Launcher ahead of its Umbilical Release and Retract Test (URRT) — a critical step toward launch. (Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux)

    At the bottom of the rocket sit the Aft Skirt Electrical Umbilicals (ASEU), which provide communication to the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) and communicate with the Launch Release System to issue the final release command.

    Also connected to the aft skirt are the GN2 Purge Umbilicals, which are used to purge the SRB aft skirts.

    Both of these were not involved in the URRT.

    A final set of ground umbilicals at the base of SLS are the two Tail Service Mast Umbilicals (TSMUs). These service masts are the primary connection to fuel the rocket’s Core Stage with liquid hydrogen coming from one of the TSMUs and liquid oxygen from the other.

    They are located on the opposite side of the rocket in relation to the launch tower. The TSMUs were involved in the URRT.

    Moving up the rocket, the Core Stage Inter-Tank Umbilical (CSITU) is connected to the Core Stage intertank between the hydrogen and oxygen tanks at a height of 42.7 meters.

    This arm is used to vent gaseous hydrogen from the Core Stage, provide a data connection, and supply pressurized gases and power.

    The Core Stage Forward Skirt Umbilical (CSFSU) is above at 54.9 meters between the first and second stages right above the oxygen tank. It is used to provide GN2 (gaseous nitrogen) to the SLS core stage.

    Six meters above that is the Vehicle Stabilizer System (VSS). This is used to stabilize the core stage during rollout and countdown and will drop down right before liftoff.

    A side view of SLS with the SRB cable trays exposed and additional, temporary wiring for the modal test sequence visible. The cable trays will eventually be closed out and covered for flight. (Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux)

    Above that, at the 73.2-meter level, is the support umbilical for the second stage and the RL10B-2 vacuum engine. This is the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage Umbilical (ICPSU) and provides liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fueling support for the upper stage as well as electrical connections and pneumatics.

    Even higher, next to the Crew Access Arm sits the Orion Service Module Umbilical (OSMU), which was also included in this test. It provides liquid coolant and purge air for the environmental control system and the Launch Abort System.

    In this test, the OSMU was connected to the Orion Mass Simulator at the top of the stack. The actual Orion was purposefully left out of this test sequence to allow as much time as possible for the rideshare CubeSats that will fly with it to be readied for flight.

    All of the swing arm umbilicals run on different forms of detachment mechanisms, using winches, wire rope lanyards, or even breakpoints. Most of them are not only built with one but two or even three different mechanisms that can detach the umbilical.

    None of the swing arms use pyrotechnic separation systems as previous NASA rockets have.

    The mechanisms to release the umbilicals will be triggered by the same signal used to give the start command to the two SRBs to make sure the rocket has a clear path upwards when the boosters ignite since the launch cannot be aborted after that command is given.

    Numerous other elements of ML-1 and its tower’s fueling, communication, data, and associated systems were tested at Launch Complex 39B prior to SLS Artemis 1 stacking in an effort to find issues that could be corrected before first flight operations and prove out the ground architecture for SLS.

    Part of that pad test simulated the countdown and an Umbilical Arm Simultaneous Retract Test involving the ICPSU, CSFSU, and CSITU.

    With the URRT now behind them, teams will now prepare for the full stack’s Integrated Modal Testing (IMT). The rocket will be tested with mechanical shakers to check its structural integrity and resonance frequency.

    The SLS Mobile Launch, a hold-over from Constellation, on a modified Apollo-era crawlerway transporter arrives at LC-39B for testing. (Credit: Stephen Marr for NSF/L2)

    This will be one of the last tests with the Orion Mass Simulator before it will be de-stacked and replaced with the Orion spacecraft and service module for the Artemis 1 mission.

    The SLS rocket is currently planned to roll later this year to Launch Complex 39B for a full Wet Dress Rehearsal. After that, it will be brought back to the VAB for final checkouts and ordnance installation.

    As of Tuesday, September 21, NASA is still holding to a public target of the end of the year for Artemis 1’s launch; however, early 2022 is a far more likely launch target at this time.

    (Lead image: SLS in VAB High Bay 3 ahead of its Umbilical Release and Retract Test. Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux)

    The post NASA completes umbilical test for SLS Artemis 1 mission appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

    Source : NASA More   

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